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How to Make a Paper Mache Totem Pole

Totem poles were made by indigenous people of the Northwestern United States.
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Totem poles were originally made by indigenous people from the Northwestern region of the United States. They were used to tell stories, celebrate clan lineage and honor cultural beliefs. Paper mache, or papier mache, totem poles can be made at home providing an excellent way for children to learn about indigenous Americans through hands-on craft activities. Make paper mache totem poles to celebrate your own family history, tell a story or explore your creative side through the art of native indigenous Americans.

Things You'll Need:

  • Scissors
  • Paints, Acrylic Or Poster
  • Flour
  • Plastic Tub
  • Cardboard
  • Newspaper
  • Masking Tape
  • 2-Liter Soda Bottles

Cut the tops and bottoms off of the 2-liter soda bottles. Cut approximately 2 inches above the bottom of the bottle and 6 inches from the top of the bottle where the it is at its maximum width, creating plastic cylinders. Slide the bottom of one bottle cylinder into the top of a second soda bottle cylinder creating one larger cylinder. Continue sliding soda bottle cylinders together until your totem pole structure has reached your desired height. Place a ring of masking tape around the areas where the bottles join together to hold them securely.

Cut large wing shapes out of the cardboard if you wish to include a winged animal on your totem pole. Cut a slit the same width as your cardboard wings in both sides of the bottle where you wish your wings to be situated on the totem pole structure. Slide approximately 3 inches of the cardboard wings into the slits, positioning them perpendicularly in the totem pole structure. Run a strip of masking tape between either side of the cardboard wings and the pole, securing the wings in place and strengthening the structure.

Use smaller pieces of cardboard and crumpled up newspaper to create forms for noses, ears, eyes and mouths of your totem pole animals. Totem poles typically feature a series of animal forms running vertically up and down the totem pole structure. The animals appear as if they were stacked on top of one another. Make your totem pole in a similar fashion or draw upon your own design. Tape the forms in place on the cylindrical totem pole structure. More detailed facial feature shapes can be created with the paper mache paste as well; the cardboard and newspaper is more of a base structure.

Mix your paper mache paste. Pour together two parts water to one part flour in your plastic tub. Mix the two ingredients together thoroughly. Two cups of water and one cup of flour is a good amount of paste to begin with; more can be made later if needed.

Tear the newspaper into long strips approximately 1 inch in width. Dip the 1-inch strips into the paper mache paste. Coat the strips with the paste completely. Pull the strips through two of your fingers as you pull them out of the plastic tub to remove any excess paste.

Drape the coated newspaper strips over the totem pole structure. Alternate the orientation of the strips crisscrossing them over one another. Cover the structure completely, including the cardboard wings. Smooth the newspaper strips with your hands, fitting them to the form of the totem pole structure. Smaller strips of coated newspaper can be used to add detail to the facial features of your totem pole creatures. Three layers of newspaper strips is recommended to ensure the finished paper mache totem pole will be sturdy.

Allow the totem pole structure to dry completely. Use acrylic or poster paints to decorate your totem pole and bring the paper mache creatures to life.


Miniature paper mache totem poles are a fun craft activity as well and are less time consuming to make. Use paper towel tubes or toilet paper tubes for the base of a miniature paper mache totem pole. Close the bottom of the tube with a cardboard circle and pour sand into the tube to weight it down. Weighted miniature paper mache totem poles make excellent decorative paper weights or desk ornaments.

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